Matinicus Island

43° 51′ 47″N , 68° 52′ 54″W

22 miles seaward of Rockland, ME

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Photo: Bill Barton

Matinicus is a world apart, a stalwart barnacle clinging to the centuries’ old life of Maine’s offshore islands. Matinicus is the outermost, year-round inhabited island on the coast; lobsters and crabs are the island’s lifeblood. Islanders are independent, friendly, rightfully proud and number about 75. The harbor is alive with the fishing fleet and portions are lined with fishing stages giving an aura of a time gone by. A place beautiful, rugged and unique.

Approach & Cautions

Photo: Bill Barton

In July and August Matinicus can be shrouded by fog and there is a good scattering of ledges around the island. Nonetheless, the harbor can be safely entered in all conditions. The surrounding islands and islets make a beautiful scene.

Approaching from the west one will either pass to the north of the island, and the north of the rocky islet, No Man’s Land, and off-lying Zephyr Rock and then turn southerly. For the easiest entrance, leave The Barrel and Harbor Ledge to starboard before turning into the harbor. Note that Harbor Ledge is marked by a bell buoy to aid entry in fog. If running on the bell, be sure to approach on a northwesterly course to avoid the ledge. The other option from the west is to leave both Matinicus and small Tenpound Island to port and Ragged Island to starboard and then stay between ledges off of Wheaton Island and Black Ledge. Then run for the bell at the entrance.

 

Matinicus Fishing Stages with two fishing boats in the foreground.

Approaching from the east leave No Mans Land to starboard and rocky Wooden Ball Island and Mackerel Ledge to starboard and then enter as above.
Don’t let the ledges deter you; just be aware during your approach.

Matinicus Harbor Chart

Click the chart to open Navionics.

Not to be used for Navigation.

Docking, Anchorages, or Moorings

Anchoring is not advised in Matinicus as the harbor floor is strewn with items that can foul an anchor. Fishermen use the northern end; note that there is a very broad ledge running across much of the northern half of the harbor. Be aware that visiting yachts should stay in the southern end of the harbor, turn left upon entering the port. There are about nine guest moorings with tall buoys, orange pennants, and plastic jars attached. Pick up any of these guest moorings. Inside the jar, you will find a handy map of the island. Be sure to leave payment in the jar. The moorings are on strong pendants attached to a steel cable running across the harbor floor. Remember this island is home to a small but active fishing fleet that gets underway with a rumble of diesel engines in the early dawn.

If all guest moorings are full, try inquiring of a fisherman; local lobsterman Joshua Ames (207-366-3128) manages the moorings and may be aboard his boat, Independence. As a last resort, you can try exiting the harbor and going around Wheaton Island, and dropping anchor at the head of neighboring Old Cove. Another option is to pop over to Ragged Island next door, also known as Criehaven. Lobstermen there make one or two moorings available and the island is well worth exploring.

Getting Ashore

Photo: Nat Warren-White

Access to the shore is from the commercial wharf on the left-hand side of the ferry wharf in the northern part of the harbor, or via a mud/pebble beach adjacent to the wharf. Skiffs and dinghies can be tied to pilings along the landward side of the wharf. A long painter is required to accommodate the tide. Head up the road and explore the island.

See additional info about things to see and do ashore — below.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

Lobster Trap Warp Climbing is a popular sport at Matinicus. Photo by Nat Warren-White

Island Bakery: Eva Murray runs the island’s bakery; she is a multitalented woman who also serves as Town Clerk, firefighter, EMT, author, and maker of iron fireplace tools. Her breads, cinnamon rolls, blueberry pies, whoopie pies, ice cream sandwich cookies, and delicious popsicles made from wild island fruits are all yummy treats! To find her shop, walk the main road from the harbor until it ends, turn left and walk past the tiny library, school, and post office until you come to the graveyard. Then turn left again and walk to the bakery’s door. Eva is a regular contributor to Downeast Magazine and the Working Waterfront newspaper, and other Maine periodicals. She has written several books, including Well Out to Sea, Year-Round on Matinicus Island, which offers a colorful, honest, and insightful look at life on this beautiful and often bleak Maine outpost.

The Fisherman’s Wife: Up the road from the harbor, you’ll see signs pointing to The Fisherman’s Wife. This wonderful shop has island crafts and art, as well as T-shirts and books about the island. Artist Donna Rogers runs it and offers some of her work and her daughter’s; you can also ask her where to buy lobsters. Take the road on the left as the sign points, and take another left to her in-home shop. CAUTION: The shop may be closed in 2022, but if not, it’s worth a visit and your consideration for support.

Library and Post Office: To reach the Library and nearby post office, take the road from the wharf until it ends and turn left. Both buildings will be on your left as you wander the dirt road. You can mail a postcard or letter from this island outpost, or buy stamps to help them survive. The library offers free WiFi and has a fun selection of books. Better yet, bring some books to leave behind.

Graveyard: The perfect place to enjoy your treat from the bakery. Sit on a bench or browse some of the unique headstones of island fishermen spanning three centuries.

Church: The island’s one church does offer services in summer. However, it is open most days and is a beautiful example of an out-island chapel built in 1906. Walking the main road from the harbor to the end and turning right will take you to the church.

Transportation: The state ferry service runs only four times per month in the summer and once a month in the winter. The ferry trip from Rockland takes about 2 hours.

Penobscot Island Air runs the plane service, and it is quick and easy. Their safety record is pretty good! You can also arrange a special charter ride on a local lobster boat. Needless to say, the best way to arrive at Matinicus is via your own boat.

Like other offshore islands on the Maine coast, Matinicus is visited regularly by the SUNBEAM. This Maine Seacoast Mission vessel brings telemedical service offering virtual doctors’ visits and training/consultation in elder care, among other important benefits. The SUNBEAM also offers religious service and support in special times of need. The Seacoast Mission has played a vital role in supporting the Matinicus and other island populations since 1905.

Another Nearby Island: You will never forget a visit to Matinicus or Criehaven (the other name for Ragged Island, “Racketash” to the Native Americans, and “Ragged Ass” to the Brits), which lies 7.5 miles south of Matinicus. A few lobstermen and families live on Criehaven in the summer, but no one lives there year-round. The harbor on Criehaven is tiny. There is no place to anchor. If you want to stop there and go ashore, pick up a mooring near the harbor entrance and wait until a fisherman appears; then ask for permission and local knowledge regarding depth and swinging room. Criehaven Harbor is protected from all but the north and northwest.

Further offshore, yet again, is Matinicus Rock. The lighthouse on the rock marks the furthest offshore entrance to Penobscot Bay and is a good waypoint to aim for when arriving from the north or south after a long passage. If you swing by and there is any visibility (read – “no fog”), you may be lucky.

Birding: In July and up until mid-August, the best birding on the coast of Maine is at Matinicus Rock. The rock is really an island about 4/10 of a mile long and located about five miles to seaward of Matinicus Island. The best time is early morning when the birds are active. Leave Matinicus before breakfast and head to the rock to see puffins, gannets, razorbills, guillemots, shearwaters, and storm petrels abound! Simply fantastic! You can learn more about the island on National Audubon’s Project Puffin website.

Hiking & Beaches: Unlike Monhegan and Isle au Haut, there are no cliff walks or mountains to climb on Matinicus. Also, very few people “from away.” The highest point on the island measures just 30 feet. The entire island covers only 2.3 square miles, 3/4-mile wide and 2 miles long. There are lovely walking trails through the woods and along the shore. The island is flat, so the hiking is not taxing. There are two lovely white sand beaches, Markey’s and South Sandy. Both are worth visiting and offer easy access to swimming — if you can stand the cold water!

Photo below — one of the beaches at Matincus by Nat Warren-White

OUR REVIEWS

What CCA Members are saying:

We love to do the “outer island swing,” beginning with Monhegan, moving on to Matinicus and Criehaven (yes, even a little further offshore!), and ending with a stop at Isle au Haut. I once heard a story about a woman born on Matinicus who never left the island until the day she died. Her only trip ashore was to be embalmed. She then returned to the island for burial. Too bad she had to leave at all! These days, embalming is not legally required unless the body is transported “by a common carrier – such as a train or plane.” Most people, not arriving by boat, take an airplane ride to get to Matinicus, dead or alive.

Nat Warren-White

The most remote inhabited island on the Maine coast is worth the effort to visit. It boasts two beautiful beaches and a unique culture based on 350 years of continuous existence as a home to fishermen, seamen and yes, pirates. European explorers arrived in 1690. Permanent habitation by European settlers began in 1750 but was contested vigorously by indigenous Abenaki Indians who used it as a fishing outpost. Use of the island today is much the same as it has been since the first Europeans arrived.

James Bennett at the wheel of his sailboat.

James Bennett

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